Episode 141 - Jack Bradley

A conversation with Jack Bradley

A conversation with Jack Bradley

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recorded July 16, 2019
published August 22, 2019

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When we think of the blended art forms of music and photography, there is a something iconic that can come out of a still picture of the great artists of the past.

Catching a glimpse of Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock or Leonard Bernstein conducting at the Philharmonic, it’s as if you can see the music coming out of the page - the thoughts coming from the artist as they glance to the side, backstage. We can let our imagination come up with scenarios, like picturing a scene or portrait while we listen to the music itself.

Recently Ronnie was fortunate to be introduced to Mr. Jack Bradley at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital on Cape Cod. Nancy, His wife of 48 years, who you just heard, spoke of the death of “Louie” in 1971.

That man was legendary Jazz trumpeter, vocalist and composer Louis Armstrong, who from the 1920s-60s was the lead influencer of both structural and improvisational elements of instrumental and vocal jazz for decades to follow.

Ronnie's colleague Dr. Anne-Marie Thomas had known of Above The Basement and wanted to connect him with Mr. Bradley.

At first glance, Jack is indeed a man who visited the emergency room after a fall and a man living with Parkinson’s Disease. But when he picked up the microphone to speak about his story of the love of music, which eventually led to a career as personal photographer for Mr. Armstrong, his face and body illuminated with excitement.

Jack took us on his journey as a kid with eyes and ears glued to the local bandstand, to his Merchant Marine work that took him to NYC, which led to the nightly discovery of jazz with a camera around his neck at all times.

Photos courtesy of Ricky Riccardi and The Louis Armstrong House Museum

Show Notes

Ronnie 0:04

Above The Basement entered its fourth year in June 2019. As one scrolls through the pictures on the episode pages, there's a sense of web of artists and creative people we have had the real honor to talk with from episode one to 140. These photographs come from our dedicated team members and simply we would not be ATB without them. So we'd like to take this opportunity to thank Joe Wallace and Michelle Gendreau our primary photographers who really bring out the talents and traits of our artists in a visual form in a respectful and artistic way. We would also like to thank our contributing guest photographers over the past few years - Hannah Clough, Maureen McDermott, and Daniel Skreves This episode is dedicated to you all, as colleagues of our guest, the great Jack Bradley

Unknown Speaker 0:56

who's who's with you here.

Unknown Speaker 1:00

My wonderful wife, Nancy Bradley.

Unknown Speaker 1:03

Hi, Nancy.

Unknown Speaker 1:05

I understand yesterday was was a special day remind me?

Unknown Speaker 1:10

Yes. Tell tell them about it. Nancy

Unknown Speaker 1:14

48 years ago we met here on the cape inCotuit. And it was unfortunately 10 days after Louie died. And Jack is often said that I replaced him in his heart

Unknown Speaker 2:19

Wehn we think of the blended art forms of music and photography. There's something iconic that can come out of a still picture of the great artist of the past - catching a glimpse of Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, or Leonard Bernstein conducting at the Philharmonic. It's as if you can see the music coming out of the page, or perhaps the thoughts coming from the artist as a glance to the side backstage. We can let our imagination come up with scenarios just like pitching a scene or portrait while we listen to the music itself. Recently, I was very fortunate to be introduced to Mr. Jack Bradley at Spaulding Rehabilitation hospital on Cape Cod, His wife of 48 years, Nancy, who you just heard spoke of the death of Louie in 1971. That man was legendary jazz trumpeter vocalist and composer Louis Armstrong, who from the 1920s to 60s was the lead influencer of both structural and improvisational elements of instrumental and vocal jazz for decades to follow. My colleague, Dr. Ann Marie Thomas had known of above the basement and wanted to connect me with Mr. Bradley.

Unknown Speaker 3:31

I had a patient who actually had interactions with one of our most famous jazz players ever and that maybe this is someone that he should meet and talk to and who will be quite happy to talk to him. So I told him about this. This gentleman here, Mr. Bradley, who used to be the official photographer for Louie Armstrong. I mean, it just lit up the room when he started to talk about this man. It was crazy. That they had had a very special relationship and I thought that you know, this is something that the rest of the world should hear about you that makes you stop.

Unknown Speaker 4:14

So first glance Jack is indeed a man who visited the emergency room after a fall and a man living with Parkinson's disease. But when he picked up the microphone to speak about his story of his love of music, which eventually led to a career as personal photographer from Mr. Armstrong, his face and body illuminated with excitement, jack takes us on a journey as a kid with eyes and ears glued to the local bandstand in Cape Cod to his Merchant Marine work that took him to New York City, which then led to a nightly discovery of jazz with a camera strapped around his neck at all times. So here is our conversation with jack Bradley at Spaulding Cape Cod in Sandwich, Massachusetts.

Unknown Speaker 5:00

Yeah, so Mr. Bradley, I know you here with us for the last week or so. And I know that you're not here just because the food is so good. No was actually one of the reasons.

Unknown Speaker 5:11

But although although we are known for our food you came in, unwillingly I should say to an emergency room so something happened to you. Right? Tell us what happened. I was frying some scholarships for dinner at home. And my wife Nancy came and said, Shaq, you don't look too good. How you feeling? And I think I replied, not too good. And I began to pass out

Unknown Speaker 5:43

and I slowly crumpled to the floor in a in a slow and very

Unknown Speaker 5:51

methodical, methodical, and wonderful man.

Unknown Speaker 5:58

It was almost like a jazz piece.

Unknown Speaker 6:00

Yeah, tell me, Nancy, from your perspective. So what what happened with jack basically he just collapsed over the scallops. Yes. Matter of fact, his parting words to me that night when they EMT took them away was enjoy the scallops. So you have Parkinson's disease is that correct? Yeah. And so how long have you had that for? close to a year ago it was always it's that new have a diagnosis for Yeah, yeah. And and Nancy, when did you start noticing it? I think he probably had it before he was diagnosed because there were a number of things such as the weird dreams that he act out.

Unknown Speaker 6:43

That was came before Yeah. And then his handwriting started to lead OBD him Brady right. And he was was falling down a lot on once he got the car be dopa levodopa. I love saying that

Unknown Speaker 6:58

he has a nice ring to it.

Unknown Speaker 7:00

Yeah, the falls stopped his hand tremors stop or pretty close to it. So therefore it was a diagnosis that he must have Parkinson's because otherwise the carpet dopa levodopa wouldn't work. Right. That's right. And jack. So you've always been a caper, right? You've been living on the cape your whole life. Not

Unknown Speaker 7:25

to say, I'm going to remember that one. So for most of your life, I should say,

Unknown Speaker 7:34

You've you grew up on the cape, and where are you from? specifically? Could true and that's around here. Yeah, that's a small village on the southern coast of Cape Cod. midway between Hyannis and Falmouth. Got it. And growing up as a as a young lad. You liked music? Oh, yeah. But not necessarily jazz.

Unknown Speaker 8:00

restaurant tour and see good music. I eventually join the Barnstable High School Marching band playing Sarah trumpet

Unknown Speaker 8:10


Unknown Speaker 8:12

Louis Armstrong disappearing. When summer wonder many summers at Legion Hall. They booked the top bands there for dancing. And

Unknown Speaker 8:27

naturally I heard they're going to hear this man because I'd heard so much about him. And my mentor in couture was Bob Hayden. famous local character. He loved Lewis and had an extensive collection of his records, photos. And when was this jack around what time were you the third trumpet in the band and excited to to see Louis Armstrong perform this was in the

Unknown Speaker 9:01

Late 40s. So you were teenage? Yeah. Around that time, a time of life is sort of figuring things out. Yeah. What struck you about wanting to meet Louis Armstrong or wanting to hear his music? Well, the main reason is because it would be fun to sneak in.

Unknown Speaker 9:25

And I never realize the extent that I would be overwhelmed by this man and his music until I stood in front of the bands and just feet away from him and stood there the whole evening with my jaw dropped and my feet chattering and smile on my face. And my friend Bob, hey next to me, and it changed my whole life now

Unknown Speaker 10:00

Trying to picture you and I can feel your face is taken a little different shape right now and I can see that you're thinking about it. Are you thinking about that? Of course. So it made you feel good, huh? Good. ecstatic.

Unknown Speaker 10:17

What did it sound like? Like, suddenly I never heard before. He had an all star band. In fact, it was called Louis Armstrong all stars. And

Unknown Speaker 10:31

it was the first live jazz band I've ever heard. So that was impressionable in itself. Because you were coming from you were a kid that was doing marching band. Yeah, you you were from more of a regimented standard marching band with not much improvisation. Pretty structured, right?

Unknown Speaker 11:00

You were a trumpet player to boot. Sir trumpet, right? That's right. So So had the passion but but perhaps not the chops that Lewis had.

Unknown Speaker 11:13

But now you and close. You mentioned it changed your life. Really?

Unknown Speaker 11:20

When you heard Louis lie, and you are a trumpet player, you either went home and started practicing for five hours a day every day. Or you decided that you're never gonna even get close to this man's genius. And you show you gave up the one. I did that.

Unknown Speaker 11:48

I was never that good in the first place, but I decided that I'd rather listen to them then. Try to play life

Unknown Speaker 11:58

but you listen to lose

Unknown Speaker 12:00

Armstrong for a long time, right? Right. And I started collecting his records and buying his for the graphs and reading books about him and seeing him in movies and

Unknown Speaker 12:17

just immersing my life with his, as much as possible. Did you ever meet him during that time? Yes, because he was at this Legion hall that time and three or four succeeding years he was there, man and those times but just as a fan to shake hands and get his autograph. And over time, you saw him play multiple times. You listen to his records, you watch his movies. Then you went about your life. What were you doing in your early 20s? Oh, yeah, so I went to Ms. maritime Academy. Yeah, after

Unknown Speaker 13:00

High School. Yes, I was out a high school a few years. For me while I was working on boats and had my own boats that helped me gain entrance to the maritime Academy which is located in Buzzards Bay on Cape Cod. You worked on it, you got in, you went for a few years. Then what happened there and I graduated, I had my mates license in the merchant marine entitle me to move to New York and after waiting out my union card, kind of a job working for grace lines, which was famous companies that were down from New York down the South America with fill up the ship with all sorts of exports from you now.

Unknown Speaker 14:00

So let's go through the canal, Panama Canal. And that was a pretty new canal at that time. Wasn't 50 years. Okay. Sorry, you're not that old.

Unknown Speaker 14:17

So jack, so you see you land in New York City, this this kid from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Yeah. And what was amazing is, you know,

Unknown Speaker 14:28

here the couple of cameras then

Unknown Speaker 14:32

expanded my photo, knowledge, mostly self taught. And it was the greatest shares place in the world. And I got to meet jazz musicians, and they were so accessible. It just knocked me out. These giants of jazz, like, not only Louis Armstrong, but Count Basie

Unknown Speaker 15:00

Benny Goodman, Lester Young, Billie Holiday, on and on. So these performers were in clubs. How did you find out that they were playing sort of word of mouth or just looking at newspaper? Both both. And you said, well, Billie Holiday is playing. I've heard of her. I'm going to go check her out tonight on her wall of them and had the record. I knew about jazz before I had met Louis. So when you were in New York City, did you go out like every night to hear music just about anything I could afford. And I found most places I could afford it would be places that would put up with young people like myself who are willing to buy a beer and stretches far as the bar bartender will allow. So So you'd kind of be sipping on your

Unknown Speaker 16:00

Beer so you can last the whole set of jazz, right? Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 16:05

That was smart. And so how much did it cost to get into the these places? For $5? That's not cheap. At that time. No, it wasn't. Sure. them you could. You could bring in a bottle of wine.

Unknown Speaker 16:26

I found every

Unknown Speaker 16:28

every cheap.

Unknown Speaker 16:53

Was there any rhyme or reason would you know Ella Fitzgerald Billie Holiday Benny Goodman Louie Armstrong.

Unknown Speaker 17:00

Was there any, any certain place that performers played that you started to gravitate towards? Well, those names you just said would be playing at the higher class clubs, which I had to learn how to finagle my way into in later years.

Unknown Speaker 17:21

I'd go in and band boy

Unknown Speaker 17:25

with errands, help helping me with their instruments. And I see you're kind of a roadie. Yeah. I mean, well, I became my road manager. Later, I was growing manager for Erroll Garner

Unknown Speaker 17:42

was manager for Bobby Hackett. You're helping out with the bands to get into to get into the clubs specially to see the higher end performers in New York City. Some of the classic the greats that we all know. And I understand that there was a way that you connect

Unknown Speaker 18:00

Did with Louie Armstrong? Definitely. I went to many private parties and with musicians and also record dates, and hours in a record day with featuring some of the early jazz musicians, no huge names but people who I had heard of and love.

Unknown Speaker 18:25

And I met this woman or lady there named Jean, Ronnie fellows. First thing she asked me was, who's my favorite trumpet player? I went, Louis Armstrong. And she threw her hands down as nevermind and walked away. Yeah, I had to receive that response from many because during those years

Unknown Speaker 19:00

Jazz was the traditional friends and musicians against the V boppers, which was just coming in in the 40s. She was moving on to Bebop. I thought she took about five steps turn around, it came back.

Unknown Speaker 19:23

And then what are their

Unknown Speaker 19:26

home that night? moved in with her.

Unknown Speaker 19:31

Learn that she handed Louis Armstrong's fan mail.

Unknown Speaker 19:37

So, Louis loved her

Unknown Speaker 19:41

shower, was him before long that we would guess at Lewis house for dinner and

Unknown Speaker 19:49

became part of his entourage. And that was up in New York. Yeah, long. You lived in Corona, Long Island, Corona, Long Island. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 20:00

So, as a boy, back in Cotuit,

Unknown Speaker 20:06

just trying to imagine you fast forwarding and having dinner at Louis Armstrong's house after that first time you met him, that must have been pretty wild. I was literally speechless.

Unknown Speaker 20:18

Where were whir so here you are at Louis Armstrong's house, having dinner with him and it sounds like you guys kind of all hit it off. Oh, well, he had that ability to make to make anyone feel at home, whether it was his home or another person's home and he was just so normal and down to earth. Would he play for you and you were at his house? Yes. With it with other guys in the band too. Or it's a sort of by himself. Oh, yeah. Oh, you must have had a pretty pretty good seat. Sure, dude.

Unknown Speaker 21:00

So jack, it sounds like you know, when you came to New York in the I think it was early 50s you had an eye for photography, and you got some new equipment. How did the photography come up come about? Because I always had a camera with me. Whenever I left the apartment cam with film ready to shoot in front of the scenes behind the scenes. Yeah. And then was usually available light because I didn't want to disturb the try and quality of the music and

Unknown Speaker 21:37

and interrupt the show. So I would be as unobtrusive as I could. When did you start realizing that, you know this, this camera around your neck could turn into a career with with Louis Armstrong. Was there a picture that you showed him or was there a moment or well I won't know near menu

Unknown Speaker 22:00

Many years before I became what people call this personal photographer, so you hung out and went to his shows and, and, and at the time and your day job or you're just you're working in your merchant marine job.

Unknown Speaker 22:16

That was cut shot after a few years, okay? Because I found there was interfering with my jersey.

Unknown Speaker 22:28

I see where this is go and so so you realize your passion took control? Yeah. When did you start becoming his personal photographer in their early 60s, okay. In the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Boston,

Unknown Speaker 22:47

Philadelphia area, travel with him on his boss to his gigs and take pictures and his manager Joe Glaser.

Unknown Speaker 23:00

Like my photos and whenever he needed fresh publicity photos of wars he told me his office and go through all my material and have hundreds printed up of each. Jack's this amazing so in Did you enjoy taking, you know candid shots or were you more?

Unknown Speaker 23:25

Did you want to plan things 95% candid shots

Unknown Speaker 23:31

and when I caught them in serious moods

Unknown Speaker 23:36

often people would recognize him because he was on stage with a big grin and

Unknown Speaker 23:44

but what people don't realize to this day is the true genius of this man. He was not only the first genius of jazz to come out

Unknown Speaker 24:00

New Orleans on a come Oliver anywhere.

Unknown Speaker 24:05

But people he influenced every child for music and not only jazz instrumentalists, but but classical instruments and

Unknown Speaker 24:19

business. No one ever played what he had played before. And most people have not come close to playing when he played since then.

Unknown Speaker 24:33

When you think about the candidates that you took on the road, in the gigs, wherever inside outside,

Unknown Speaker 24:43

was there a part of your work that made you feel bonded to his music?

Unknown Speaker 24:49

Oh, definitely. Yeah, because I caught him in all situations. He invited me to not only record days but private parties.

Unknown Speaker 25:00

band rehearsals,

Unknown Speaker 25:03

all sorts of offbeat things that he was going to be going to.

Unknown Speaker 25:10

Moving on. You spent several years together. Tell me more about the later chapter. Well, he died when he was seven years old in 1971. So he played strong, along somewhat limited compared to his power harvesters. But

Unknown Speaker 25:36

for a man in his 60s,

Unknown Speaker 25:40

he just was unbelievable. He could hit those high notes right on the nose, without hesitating, and whenever he played, he put his heart and soul into it. Did you work with him as a photographer until he passed on?

Unknown Speaker 26:00

Yes, yeah. What was the last photo you you took of Lewis? I really can't remember but it was probably a few months before he died. He died in 1971. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 26:15

After he died, I can't imagine how that was for you.

Unknown Speaker 26:20

He was a part of you. Were shocking.

Unknown Speaker 26:26

He was just one of those guys who you never thought would die. He had such vibrancy. And how did he die?

Unknown Speaker 26:37

in his sleep?

Unknown Speaker 26:39

Yeah, at home, was he sick at all? He'd be in and out of the hospital with, you know, different problems.

Unknown Speaker 26:50

You know, religious age. Did he keep them kind of separate his own health? Or was he did he talk to you about it?

Unknown Speaker 26:59

No, he

Unknown Speaker 27:00

didn't talk much about it because that was negative and I heard his image. And in showbiz you didn't want that to happen. Did you notice anything in your pictures? Something that changed with him?

Unknown Speaker 27:18

Yeah, sometimes I catch him like resting between tunes or something and his mind would be off into another world somewhere and he might have a terrific sadness to his face. And

Unknown Speaker 27:39

remember capturing that sadness. Yeah. Some of my better pictures.

Unknown Speaker 27:47

JACK, it's really been great to talk with you and and to teach us about your life and his work and your work. Same here and I appreciate you having the good Chase. You want

Unknown Speaker 28:00

You and your fans want to know more about Louis Armstrong because that's a man that did it all. And he still hasn't gotten to recognition. But I've spent my life trying to change that. Well, it's much appreciated jack. And I have to say 1971 actually doesn't does resonate with both of us because that's the year you met your wife, Nancy, that was here before right after he died. Yeah. And it actually is the year I was born. Wow.

Unknown Speaker 28:35

So I never knew that about Louis Armstrong.

Unknown Speaker 28:39

And I'll never think the same way about 1971. Again, can you show me a couple of these photos and take me through them? So this one here, I'm assuming this is you and Louis? Yeah. Where was this taken? was taken, either their plot or whole challenge

Unknown Speaker 29:01

And taken by Joe marine he who is clarinet player with Lewis at the time. That's great. Not a bad bad shot for an amateur clarinet clarinet photographer. Hmm. Right. And tell me about this one. This was put out by Louie Armstrong. How soon archives which, by the way, house motion Mr. Louie Armstrong photographs and where is that in the Quran? where his home is? Yeah. Okay. And where is this taken? If memory serves me that was taking

Unknown Speaker 29:42

movies with Sammy Davis Jr. in Harlem. He looks so pensive there, he's smoking a cigarette looking to the right, with that black bow tie. There's something so powerful about his eyes and the fact that there is nobody

Unknown Speaker 30:00

Trump it anywhere insight. Yeah, no, it's just that's just says jazz musician to the core. You got it. That's Louis Armstrong. And this is a little different picture. Yes. That was backstage. Nope. Yeah, I can tell us backstage is not only what does it

Unknown Speaker 30:22

sound strong, wearing nothing but slippers and a handkerchief on his head. That is the official backside of Louis Armstrong backs. Yes. And that became relatively famous. Ended up on the album cover, much to my dismay, because they didn't ask for my permission.

Unknown Speaker 30:47

Give me credit. Oh, is that right? But which album is that? It's for a small, relatively unknown album put out in France

Unknown Speaker 30:59

in the 60s,

Unknown Speaker 31:01

So Mr. Bradley, it's been really great to talk with you.

Unknown Speaker 31:05

Before closing, I'd like to give a plug to a fairly recent book put out. Yeah, by Thomas brothers who's done a couple of other books on Louis, but this is called Louis Armstrong, New Orleans. Oh, this is great. And it's so well written.

Unknown Speaker 31:29

And I know your photos in here. No, no. Okay. But it's a it's 2006 and this is Louis Armstrong's Thomas brothers. Now I'm going to have to really educate myself on Lewis. I've always liked his music, but this conversation is sort of reminds me of the time when you first heard of Louis Armstrong now I have to do my research and I think I'm hooked. So thank you, Ray. Well, I guess I've done my job in college.

Unknown Speaker 32:00

And spreading the gospel Louis Armstrong. Indeed you have a new show.

Unknown Speaker 32:10

So begin Yeah, you get so wet in the rain, you know.

Unknown Speaker 32:16

It's so warm in the sunshine and get my suntan. It does pay to complain, never complain when I get up the tone and there's nothing to breathe.

Unknown Speaker 32:28

And when I look in the mirror, that's nothing to comb but when I sit down with nothing to eat with food, life is so peculiar but you can't stay home and move on like cannot It

Unknown Speaker 32:42

is so peculiar that it's only God San and that's

Unknown Speaker 32:49

the motions only God wants. You can't break it all up. You never know where you stand. When I go out to dinner, that's nothing to wear, but

Unknown Speaker 33:00

Hello. And whenever I get sleep, it has nothing to do but though

Unknown Speaker 33:05

whenever I get thirsty, there's nothing to do but drink live so peculiar that makes you stop.

Unknown Speaker 33:15


Unknown Speaker 33:18

we would like to thank jack Bradley and his wife Nancy for sharing the time with us at Spaulding Cape Cod this summer, and we wish him the speediest recoveries to get back to enjoying his home and family. Jack's passion for music and the legacy of Louis Armstrong forever be impressed upon me. And I hope we do right by jack as we share a story of a photographer who fell in love with jazz and never looked back. Thank you, Dr. Thomas for the introduction to Mr. Bradley. And a special thanks to the Spaulding rehabilitation network for your care of not just the patient, but the person and the family. Please go to above the basement calm where you can join us on Patreon. Sign up for our newsletter, listen and subscribe to our podcast like our Facebook page. Follow us on Twitter and look at all the nice pictures. We post on

Unknown Speaker 34:00

Instagram. We are everywhere.

Unknown Speaker 34:04

Thanks for listening. Tell your friends and remember Boston music like its history is unique.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai